The Longest Afternoon

The 400 Men Who Decided the Battle of Waterloo


By Brendan Simms

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  1. Hardcover $32.00
  2. ebook $15.99

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around February 10, 2015. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

From the prizewinning author of Europe, a riveting account of the heroic Second Light Battalion, which held the line at Waterloo, defeating Napoleon and changing the course of history.

In 1815, the deposed emperor Napoleon returned to France and threatened the already devastated and exhausted continent with yet another war. Near the small Belgian municipality of Waterloo, two large, hastily mobilized armies faced each other to decide the future of Europe-Napoleon’s forces on one side, and the Duke of Wellington on the other.

With so much at stake, neither commander could have predicted that the battle would be decided by the Second Light Battalion, King’s German Legion, which was given the deceptively simple task of defending the Haye Sainte farmhouse, a crucial crossroads on the way to Brussels. In The Longest Afternoon, Brendan Simms captures the chaos of Waterloo in a minute-by-minute account that reveals how these 400-odd riflemen successfully beat back wave after wave of French infantry. The battalion suffered terrible casualties, but their fighting spirit and refusal to retreat ultimately decided the most influential battle in European history.
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  • "Simms tells the story of the combat for La Haye Sainte with the rich, gritty, eyewitness detail that it deserves.... Simms' engaging narrative is one of bravery, terror and suffering.... Simms offers a reminder that Waterloo was not fought just between the British and French, but was very much a European battle."
    New York Times Book Review
  • "Mr. Simms's fluent and meticulously researched narrative nonetheless provides enough context to engage not only specialists, but also readers unfamiliar with the broader historical background. By focusing upon a particular episode, rather than the bigger picture, Mr. Simms manages to reflect the grim reality of Waterloo better than some more comprehensive surveys."
    Wall Street Journal
  • "A superb little book that is micro-history at its best."
    Washington Post
  • "An hour-by-hour, blow-by-blow account by Brendan Simms of one particularly hard-fought segment of the battle...which achieves the difficult feat of looking from a fresh, useful angle on a subject that is among the most minutely scrutinized in European history...[a] vividly told story...[with] a pacy narrative that evokes the smoke, heat and confusion of battle"
    Financial Times
  • "Simms writes from the perspective of the mud-caked battlefield. As a result, Wellington's victory is presented in all its savagery, vainglory, and desperation.... [I]t would seem that Waterloo was fought by soldiers who were tortured by right and wrong alike, men who intended to accomplish far more than killing."
    Battles and Book Reviews
  • "Through his clever ability to entwine first-person accounting with historical narrative, Simms allows the reader to explore the many facets of the battle in detailed depth and vivid focus...This is a very authoriative piece. Between the number of powerful first-person accounts and detailed historical events, the book reads as a minute-by-minute eyewitness accounting. The deliberate story line and powerful detailing leaves little room for question...The greatest attraction of this book is its ability to tell the story of the battle in a very realistic sense...The reader is drawn into the history and given insight to feel the accountings in a very real and pragmatic fashion."
    Military Review
  • "Simms recounts the fight from a fresh angle, delivering a thoroughly satisfying addition to a vast genre.... Aided by a surprising number of letters, memoirs and commentaries from participants, Simms write a vivid account even readers familiar with Waterloo should not pass up."
    Military History
  • "A vivid and compelling account of a fight that for much of the afternoon was not merely a battle within a battle but was the battle itself."
    Evening Standard, UK
  • "Short but action-packed book...patient readers will be rewarded by the meticulous way Simms assembles the pieces of an enormously complicated jigsaw puzzle."
    Weekly Standard
  • "This tight, vivid account brings the reader into the heart of the epic conflict.... [A] gripping and original account of men in battle."
    Washington Independent Review of Books
  • "[Simms] brings his readers into the mud and blood, into the near constant shelling, the cries of the wounded and dying. We are with these soldiers before the battle, hung over, hungry and soaking wet, and during the seemingly endless succession of infantry and cavalry charges."
    Providence Journal
  • "Told in clear, concise and colorful prose. The rich details and Simms' ability to breathe life into primary source documents make this an exceptional war story."
    Roanoke Times
  • "Simms brings the life the intensity of war on a 19th-century battlefield, and the depth of bravery in both ranks."
    Washington Times
  • "Narrative and microhistory at its best."
    War on the Rocks
  • "An important and interesting perspective on a battle.... An overview of battle often dehumanizes, describing units of men as mere chess pieces. This book joins many others that attempt to remedy that. There is so much more to be said about Waterloo, how it came to happen, its grand strategic impulses and consequences, Napoleonic warfare in general etc. But as a battle itself is performed by numerous actors in various positions, to be able to see one segment with such accuracy is instructive. Brendan Simms has done an admirable job."
    Armchair General
  • "Simms does an admirable job of showing that stories do still count. This thoroughly engrossing account will thrill all history lovers."
    Library Journal, starred review
  • "For history readers who appreciate grainy, detailed battle accounts, this fine book concerns the carnage, heroism, and occasional stupidity that occurred around a single Belgian farmhouse at the center of the battlefield at Waterloo during a few hours in 1815.... A remarkably detailed book."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "[A] gripping account of the bloody, heroic defense of La Haye Sainte...Simms takes advantage of abundant letters and memoirs to deliver an engrossing, often gruesome nuts-and-bolts description of that afternoon."
  • "Very engaging"
    Spectator, UK

On Sale
Feb 10, 2015
Page Count
208 pages
Basic Books

Brendan Simms

Brendan Simms

About the Author

Brendan Simms is a professor in the history of international relations and fellow at Cambridge. He is the author of many books, including Europe and Hitler. He lives in Cambridge, UK.

Charlie Laderman is a senior lecturer in international history in the war studies department at King’s College, London. He is the author of books on US-UK foreign policy, including Sharing the Burden. He lives in London.

Learn more about this author